He was an intimate friend, one I could rely on to remind me I was alive when the shadows came, but relationships change and grow. We grew apart as time went by but we reconnected again a couple of years ago, renewing a liaison that began when I was eighteen.

Back in college we started out as casual acquaintances, on a first name basis but not close. Slowly our relationship grew until I didn’t know what life was like without him. We spent nearly every waking hour together and most nights as well. He cradled me through the tears when I felt like my life was slipping away. When I lost control, when the drugs overwhelmed me, he was there to bring me back from the edge. At times I felt as if he was the only thing keeping me alive.

During my freshman and sophomore years of college he occupied the empty spaces in my life and nearly my every thought. Sometimes I was able to clearly see that the relationship was unhealthy, was hurting more than helping me, but then he’d wrap me in his embrace and I was once again lost in him.

Things change, lives change, I changed.

I went back to school after spending a summer without him and the intimacy we had was gone, our codependency killed by time and distance. We remained friends but our fiery affair was over.

We stayed in touch through the passing years. He’d drop into my life unexpectedly, stay a few days, sometimes a week or more. We’d have a brief fling and then he’d leave again. It was just enough contact to remind me that I was alive, but not so much that I worried about losing myself again.

The very nature of our association colored how I related to others. Serious romantic relationships were difficult for me to maintain because I knew he was waiting for me. I was more comfortable having casual affairs with friends who knew the score, but even then he was never far from my thoughts. More than once, during the throes of passion, I found myself crying out for him rather than my lover. A few were understanding, most were dismayed.

Nearly two years ago everything changed. He paid me a visit and decided to stay. I tried to resist, tried to get him to move on, but he was as stubborn as he was seductive. He seemed to think I was stronger with him than without him. I knew it wasn’t true but he didn’t listen to me, he seldom listened to me.

I was a different person from the one he met almost two decades earlier but he hadn’t changed; he was like Peter Pan, unaltered by time. It wasn’t that I didn’t need him in my life, he’d always be a part of me, but I didn’t want him with me every day. I liked our prior arrangement; the quick visits, the bursts of heat and intimacy, had been enough to sustain me but living with him day in and day out stifled me. I became reliant on him to define who I was and I couldn’t continue on that way.

It took all the strength I had to push him away. Succumbing to his desires would have been easy, after all, I depended on him when the medical world turned their back on me. He supported me during those dark days of detox from the medications that were killing me. He was with me when I woke up vomiting at three in the morning, not my doctors, not my friends, only him.

I knew he’d protect me from the outside world, hold me so tight I wouldn’t need anyone else, but I had too much respect for myself and for the life I had built without him to allow it to happen. He left reluctantly, but he didn’t, couldn’t, leave me alone completely. And, in all honesty, I didn’t want him to. We’d been too close for too long; I’d feel bereft without him in my life.

We’ve reached an uneasy understanding. He visits me more often than I’d like but I’m slowly coming to terms with it. I’m learning how to live with his intermittent companionship while still retaining my identity. It’s a struggle, sometimes it’s even a battle, but then living with chronic pain will always be an uncomfortable affair.